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Saving and Strengthening Languages: Using Them "Right" in Education and Development

by Sheldon Shaeffer
May/June 2012
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Article Link: https://www.childcareexchange.com/article/saving-and-strengthening-languages-using-them-right-in--education-and-development/5020508/

Language — both oral and written — is an essential driver in the process of individual and national development. But languages are living things; they need to develop, thrive, and be used effectively — and many need to be re-vitalized and even saved from an early death — in order for all people of the world, especially those most excluded and disadvantaged, to benefit from development. A dynamic, living language, in other words, is essential to the well-being and sustainability of any human society.

But languages are in trouble. Ninety-seven percent of the world's people speak only 4% of its languages — which means that only 3% of the world's people speak 96% of its languages ­(Russell, 1996). Linguists and development agencies alike estimate that perhaps 50% — and maybe many more — of the world's 6,000 or so living languages will fall out of use over the next hundred years. UNESCO's most recent estimate (2009) indicates that some 2,500 languages are endangered (some seriously so), with 230 extinct in the last 60 years. Linguistic diversity — as with cultural diversity and biological diversity — is under serious threat around the world.

So What Would be the Loss?

The world's small, ethnic-minority language communities ...

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